8 May 2013

California Dreamin’

Corvette owner’s amazing story of lost and found


Bill Ogden wrote the book on Corvette. OK, so he didn’t exactly write the definitive book on all Corvettes, but the Virginia native has written four books on one very special ’Vette – his own. It’s a classic case of the one that got away … and then miraculously found its way back to him more than four decades later.

“It was just dumb luck that I got the car back,” said Ogden, 76. “And when that happened, it seemed fitting to share some of the stories from the first four years we were together. It kind of made the reunion complete.”

Ogden, who now lives in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Ill., was in his mid-20s in 1961 when he left Virginia and headed west along old U.S. Route 66 to find work in California. Once there – and with a job in hand – one of his first purchases was a new 1962 Chevrolet Corvette, a car he’d been in love with since he saw a ’61 model on the “Route 66” television series.

On Oct. 19, 1961, Selman Chevrolet in Orange, Calif., handed Ogden the keys to a white ’Vette with red interior, 327 cubic-inch engine and 340 horsepower. Ogden said it was a match made in heaven, and he offers proof of that in his ever-expanding book series titled, “When We Were Young with Our Corvettes: California Adventures in the Early 1960s.” For four years, Ogden and the car were constant companions.

“It was the best of times,” Ogden said. “To be young, single and male driving a new Corvette in Southern California … I couldn’t lose.”

The two shared plenty of memorable experiences. Ogden met celebrities like Bing Crosby, Gene Autry and Walt Disney, who gave Ogden and his date season passes to Disneyland; drove historic routes like 17-Mile Road at Pebble Beach; and staked out celebrity hangouts and movie shoots – the ’Vette can even be seen in the star-filled comedy “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Ogden usually had a beautiful woman riding shotgun. Of course, the cops liked him, too.

“In Southern California in 1961,” Ogden wrote in his first book, “… it’d be a toss-up who watched you more, the beach girls or the California Highway Patrol.”

By 1966, a now-married Ogden had moved to Atlanta and was planning a family. So he did the responsible thing and traded in the Corvette (for $2,004.60) and purchased a 1967 Olds Delta 88. He never expected to see the car again.

Then in 2003, Ogden returned to Virginia for his 50th high school class reunion, and his sister gave him a box that she’d found while settling their parents’ estate years earlier.

“Back when I bought the Corvette, I took everything and sent it home to my Mom and Dad, along with some photos of me and the car,” Ogden said. “I’d forgotten all about it. I didn’t even know that stuff still existed.”

Memories of his adventures with the Corvette came rushing back, and Ogden eventually began searching for another one – not his original car but one like it. For the next three years, he saw plenty of ‘Vettes without pulling the trigger. Then in 2007, Ogden received a call from a California man who was selling a white ’62 Corvette with red interior. He was intrigued, but the asking price was too high. That changed when the owner mailed him a judging sheet from the National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS). The first page included the vehicle’s serial number, and Ogden compared it to the paperwork that his sister had found. Unbelievably, they matched. He’d found a needle in a haystack.

 “I never expected to find the original,” he said. “Ever.”

Ogden traveled to Palm Springs to look at the car and tried to play it cool while he negotiated a price. Finally, a deal was struck. “To know that the car was mine again … it was an unbelievable feeling.”

Ogden often contemplates his good fortune. “I never would have known I’d found my car if I hadn’t sent that bill of sale to my parents. I know how lucky I am. My story is unique. It rarely ever happens.”

In the prologue of his books, Ogden includes “A Car Story” that’s written from the Corvette’s perspective, and the car is clearly happy to be “home.” After a full restoration, it won an NCRS DUNTOV Mark of Excellence Award in 2011, but the old ’62 was a treasure long before that. So are Ogden’s stories. Even Heidi, his wife of nearly 50 years, enjoys cruising down Memory Lane.

“She’s in some of the chapters, but I only use her real name once I think,” Ogden said. “She and her friends think it’s the cat’s meow. Our kids enjoy it, too. California in the 1960s was a great place to be, and we lived it.”

And thanks to the lost-and-found Corvette, they’re living it again.

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